Not learning their lesson in the Andy
Oliver case, the NCAA is being sued by
James Paxon of the University of Kentucky.
Like the bully they are, the NCAA is at it again, waging war on the student-athletes that make their funding – indeed, their very existence – possible.
You may have heard of Andy Oliver. The NCAA suspended the former Oklahoma State University pitcher for violating Bylaw 126.96.36.199, which prohibits a student-athlete’s attorney from engaging in direct discussions with a MLB team on a professional contract. Oliver decided to fight the behemoth and won, when an Ohio judge told the NCAA they couldn’t tell an attorney how to do his job.
But bullies don’t like to be told what to do. In order to continue pursuing its heavy-handed tactics, the NCAA essentially bought its way out of the Oliver decision by settling the case for $750,000. The settlement vacated the judgment against the NCAA, effectively wiping the slate clean. (see Andy Oliver Case Highlights Inflexibility Within NCAA Rules)
In a case that picks up where Oliver left off, the NCAA is pursuing James Paxton, a left-handed pitcher for the University of Kentucky who was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in June. Paxton decided to turn down Toronto’s offer and return to Kentucky. But the NCAA heard rumors that Paxton’s attorney/agent negotiated directly with the Blue Jays and demanded, through the University, that Paxton sit for an interview or risk suspension. And oh, by the way, don’t tell your parents and don’t bring an attorney with you.
Paxton consulted with an attorney who advised him that he didn’t give up his right to counsel when he enrolled at Kentucky. Paxton’s local attorney enlisted the help of Rick Johnson, Oliver’s Cleveland attorney who set the NCAA on its ear, and together they filed an injunction against the University asking, among other things, that Paxton be allowed to pitch on the team. A hearing on the injunction has been set for January 15.
Of course, the NCAA has no right to demand a sit down with Paxton. Student-athletes are not members of, have no contract with – indeed, have no relationship whatsoever with - the NCAA, as the oversight body is only too quick to point out when it serves its purpose. But when they want to wield their bully-club, the NCAA demands that young men and women respond to their illegal and illegitimate demands – made through member institutions - as if this is a third world country run by a dictatorship.
There are three ways the NCAA can be brought kicking and screaming into the 21st century. The NCAA is a membership organization that works for its members, the universities. Presidents of member schools, who are designated by the NCAA as the chief overseers of the athletic programs on their campuses, should tell the NCAA honchos what they want them to do, rather than the other way around. But don’t expect a Ph.D. in History or English to understand basic human rights. And even if they did, university presidents have a myriad of issues to deal with, including, in some cases, the financial survival of their schools, something that trumps the rights of student-athletes.
Second, Congress can get involved. Of course, Congress also has more important issues on its plate. But a House subcommittee recently passed a bill to require the BCS to hold a playoff. While the NCAA doesn’t administer the BCS, the House action suggests that legislators aren’t reluctant to get involved in sports related issues if it means additional publicity that plays well to constituents come election time.
The best way to attack the injustices of the NCAA is through the courts, just like Oliver did and Paxton is now doing. It will take time, money and effort, and the burden shouldn’t be borne by student-athletes at a time when being a student and an athlete takes a full-time commitment. But if they do nothing, the NCAA will continue its unconscionable assault on student-athletes, denying them the basic rights that are available to every other person in this country.
Don’t hold your breath waiting for the NCAA to voluntarily change its bylaws. Organizations as power hungry as the NCAA rarely look in the mirror and decide to do the right thing on their own. Lord Acton’s comments in 1887 are applicable to the NCAA. “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
(EDITORS NOTE: For more on the Paxon and Oliver cases, read Arn Tellem's Op/Ed on the Huffington Post entitled Advice and Constraint)
Jordan Kobritz is a staff member of the Business of Sports Network. He is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Eastern New Mexico University and teaches the Business of Sports at the University of Wyoming.
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